Introduction: Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe

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Introduction: Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe


BALSIGER, Jörg, UYAR, Aysun. Introduction: Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe. In: Balsiger, J. & Uyar, A. Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe: Proceedings. Kyoto : Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, 2013. p. 1-6

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Introduction: Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe

Jörg Balsiger, University of Geneva Aysun Uyar, Doshisha University

To cite this article: Balsiger, Jörg, and Aysun Uyar (2013), Introduction: Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe, in J. Balsiger and A. Uyar (eds.), Comparing Regional Environmental Governance in East Asia and Europe. Kyoto: Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, pp. 1–6.

Viewed from the perspective of regionalism (defined here as the political- ideological motivations underpinning institutionalized practices) and regionalization (defined here as the region-building processes that actors engage in) in their many disguises, East Asia and Europe are two of the world’s most dynamic regions. Consequently, scholars have long demonstrated a vivid interest in tracking, understanding, and explaining developments in the respective regions, often from a comparative perspective and mostly with a focus on economic integration and security cooperation (Balsiger and VanDeveer 2010, 2012).

Comparing environmental cooperation and governance in East Asia and Europe remains a much less visible subject, which raises the question whether findings in the study of one subject area have any purchase in another. For instance, some studies of regionalism in East Asia have suggested a gradual evolution from

“projections of national models to the coexistence of several viable alternatives and the emergence of a truly hybrid form of regionalism” (Katzenstein 2006:2). Is this the case in environmental cooperation? If so, what are the sources and destinations of policy transfer, what instruments are being projected, and what

is the impact on attempts to solve environmental problems? In Europe, the removal of barriers to trade, the creation of a single market, and the free movement of labor have been constitutive dimensions of regional integration, yet each of these policy domains has seen subregional variations such as in the case of the Schengen/Dublin agreements or monetary union. Can such variation be observed in environmental policy, and if yes, how are subregions defined, how do subregional policy instruments relate to global conventions, and what role does regional environmental policy making play beyond its borders? Above all, how do the nature and direction of trends in East Asian and European regional environmental governance (REG) compare, and what, if anything, can scholars and policy makers learn from the comparison?

To address many of these questions was among the core objectives of the workshop “Comparing regional environmental governance in East Asia and Europe (EE-REG),” organized by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) and the University of Geneva’s Department of Geography and Environment (UNIGE) on 24-25 January 2013 in Kyoto, Japan. This collaborative initiative sought to produce a state-of-the- art assessment of recent developments in


regional environmental governance in East Asia and Europe; explore similarities and differences in the nature and dynamics of REG in the two regions, especially with a view to refining an analytical framework for future comparative research; create a foundation for future collaborative research between scientists from Europe and East Asia, including through joint products emerging from the EE-REG workshop; and help raise awareness of the importance of interdisciplinary research of regional environmental governance, particularly among East Asian research communities. This volume brings together the main contributions to the workshop, presents the main findings, and raises a number of questions for further research on regional environmental governance.

Themes in comparing regional environmental governance

Over the course of two days, regional environmental governance in East Asia and Europe was the subject of inspiring presentations and discussions by a group of experts from academia and the world of policy making, representing disciplines as diverse as political science, geography, sociology, law, hydrology, climatology, forest management, and glaciology. In order to maximize the potential for generating comparative insights, participants were identified with a view to fit a matrix consisting of three analytical themes (framing the region, crafting cooperation, reverberating beyond the region) and four topical themes (rivers and seas, mountains, extreme climate events and transboundary risk governance, air pollution and haze).

Framing the region

Although much regional environmental governance emanates from established regional organizations, including regional economic integration organizations (REIOs)

such as the EU or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the study of regional environmental governance must typically begin by addressing the question “What is a region?” Even where REG originates from REIOs, they can be in flux (e.g. EU expansion, ASEAN Plus Three). Where regions are defined on the basis of dense but non-institutionalized regional cooperation such as is the case of East Asia, the question what constitutes East Asia is important for environmental and or other issues, since complementary, partially overlapping regional orders exist (e.g. Northeast Asia, Greater Asia, Panasia), or because some East Asian members are sometimes also considered part of other subregions (e.g. China as part of South Asia). Both regional flux through expansion and regional ambiguity through multiple affiliations can be observed in Europe and Asia. Differences in how they manifest become an important dimension in the comparison of European and East Asian REG.

A second reason why the question “What is a region?” is of particular significance in the analysis of regional environmental governance is that ecoregions such as river basins or mountain ranges are frequently assumed to be externally (scientifically) given, there to be discovered. Current work emphasizes instead that regions, including environmental ones, are socially constructed and that the processes of constructing them must be built into the analysis (Debarbieux 2012; Fall and Debarbieux, this volume). Whereas civil society and international institutions play an important role in this regard in Europe, the same is often seen as lacking in East Asia (Lee 2002). Furthermore, while ecoregions typically transcend (sub)national boundaries, the structure of regional political order in Europe and East Asia varies. Considering how these


differences impact the ways in which regions for environmental governance come to be defined by various actors can reveal key similarities and differences between European and East Asian REG. In particular, it provides important insights into the role of science in regional environmental cooperation, which is one of the main reasons to include natural scientists among the EE-REG participants.

Finally, comparing the framing of regions for environmental governance in Europe and Asia can be instructive through the lens of two special types of regions. First, there are typically multiple functional regions – a concept that refers to regions defined for a particular purpose such as river basins, coastal seas, airsheds, or animal migration corridors – which only partially overlap (Balsiger 2012). The scope of functional regions and overlaps, and in particular the ways in which these are recognized and mobilized by different actors provides important clues for how policy integration is organized in Europe and East Asia. Second, the crucial importance to Asia of shifting monsoon patterns raises the interesting question of how such a “mobile region” is framed, with what consequences, and whether an analog can be found in Europe, for instance in terms of transboundary risk management schemes for flood and other natural hazard events.

Crafting cooperation

The second theme that will be used to focus the comparison between regional environmental governance in Europe and East Asia concerns modes of cooperation.

On the surface, REG in Europe and East Asia are very different (Schreurs 2011;

Koyano, this volume; Yoon, this volume), yet that difference is mitigated (a) when the scope of European REG is expanded between the narrow context of the EU to

include other formal and informal initiatives (e.g. treaties under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, river commissions; see Ballaman, this volume), and (b) when the governance is interpreted broadly so as to encompass a wide variety of collective action shaping behavior (e.g. norm-promoting networks of cities or non-governmental organizations; see Kern, this volume), rather than more narrowly limited to legally binding regulatory norms. For instance, much East Asian environmental cooperation is carried out through development assistance (Mori 2005), which in Europe takes the form of EU cohesion programs in Eastern and Central Europe. Whereas Schreurs (2009) points to significant heterogeneity of economic development among states in the regions as a reason for the absence of regional cooperation, Li (2008) suggests similarities between the Baltic Sea area and Northeast Asia in terms of shared problems of their transnational pollution and the heterogeneity of the level of economic development of countries within each region.

Previous work on regional economic governance in Europe and East Asia has shown a marked tendency toward multilateralism in the former and bilateralism in the latter. An important question for EE-REG participants is therefore whether this contrast also applies to environmental governance, for instance in terms of coordinating mechanisms among overlapping environmental initiatives (Komori 2010).

Or, since bilateral cooperation is also found in Europe and multilateral cooperation is also found in East Asia, under what circumstances one or the other prevails.

Additionally, since a growing role of public- private partnerships and direct cooperation between subnational governments can be observed in both


regions (Noguchi 2007; Odaira 2011), what can be said about these particular forms of cooperation?

A second issue that emerges from the literature on comparative regionalism is the role of cultural values. Much regionalist work on Asia has suggested an

“Asian way” in how cooperation is designed. Values principally derived from Confucian traditions are thus said to have contributed to particular forms of communitarian governance, an argument that is frequently advanced by Asian writers (Shin 2011). By contrast, Western writers analyzing forms of governance in Europe typically refer to legalist and individual rights-based cooperative traditions (witness the preamble of the rejected European constitution). In the context of regional governance, while Asian views of nature values are seen to have largely positive influences on society- environmental relations, critical environmental studies of the West arrive at opposite conclusions. Assessing whether and how cultural values indeed manifest in regional environmental governance, and with what consequences, emerges as an interesting, albeit tricky dimension of comparison.

Reverberating beyond the Region

The third theme concerns the embeddedness of European and East Asian regional environmental governance in larger contexts such as global regimes for climate change, transatlantic cooperation, or Asia-Pacific cooperation, as well as the links between Europe and East Asia. One dimension of this theme relates to policy mobility and diffusion, that is the degree to which ideas and practices travel from one region to the other (Stone 2004;

Börzel et al. 2012; Solingen 2012).

Subsidiary questions include the content and direction of what is mobile, the nature

of agents of diffusion, and the dynamics and consequences of adoption and adaptation.

Finally, both Europe and East Asia (collectively or via constituent states or organizations) maintain neighborhood policies. In this special case, they meet in the Central Asian region, which emerges as a unique empirical field in which the encounter of European and East Asian regional governance can be studied.

Structure of the Volume

The three analytical themes outlined above appear in various ways throughout the contributions to this volume. In order to facilitate the discussions at the workshop, as well as add a second comparative dimension, four topical themes were defined as the organizing principles of the panels.

The first topical theme, rivers and seas, was presented by Kristine Kern on the governance of regional seas in Europe, with a special focus on the Baltic Sea from a comparative perspective; Takayuki Shiraiwa on the Amur-Okhotsk Consortium as an epistemic community concerned with the transboundary land-ocean ecosystem in Northeast Asia and the Russian Far East; and Makoto Taniguchi on knowledge sharing concerning transboundary surface and subsurface water management in Asia. The first two contributions are included in this volume.

The second topical theme, mountains, was addressed at the workshop by Simon Gaberell, who examined the framing of the Carpathian mountain range for regional environmental cooperation; Gilles Rudaz, who analyzed the place of mountains in regional cooperation in Central Asia; and Guofan Shao, Lina Tang, and Limin Dai, who addressed efforts to develop transboundary cooperation between China


and North Korea along the Changbai mountain range. The first two contributions are included in this volume.

The third topical theme, extreme climate events and transboundary risk management brought together two presentations. Rolf Lidskog contributed a reflection on the meaning of the notion

“extreme event” and its implications for regional governance. Tetsuzo Yasunari presented insights on the positive and negative impacts of seasonal monsoon- caused precipitation, as well as societal means of adapting to the phenomenon.

The first contribution is included in this volume.

Finally, a topical panel on air pollution and haze was constituted by two practitioners and an academic; all three contributions are included in this volume. Esook Yoon provided an overview of efforts to institutionalize regional environmental cooperation in Northeast Asia; Richard Ballaman offered insights and experiences from the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution; and Sangmin Nam and Heejoo Lee examined atmospheric governance in Northeast Asia.

Four additional contributions round out the volume of proceedings. In addition to this introduction setting out the workshop context and themes, Juliet Fall and Bernard Debarbieux contributed a piece based on a keynote address on the question “How regional is regional environmental governance?” Mari Koyano reflected on the role of international law in discussions about REG in East Asia and Europe. And Aysun Uyar, Jörg Balsiger and Makoto Taniguchi presented a preliminary assessment of lessons learned from the workshop.


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